Tuesday, July 12, 2016

My Name was Never Called when Choosing Sides for Basketball

And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball

Janis Ian sings plaintively and poignantly of youthful angst in her song, "At Seventeen." The lyrics above resonate particularly loudly with me because I was that kid, back in my school days.

I'm thinking of this today because sports and I have always had a contentious relationship. When I was in school, I was always the "uncoordinated" one, the one whom no one wanted on their team because I was never an asset, always a liability.

I was the sissy and later the fag, the homo. I was teased, bullied both emotionally and physically. Life was rough for me as a kid and, later, as a teenager. Particularly because in my heart, I felt the "different" stirrings within me were justification for being mistreated. In my mind, I was a shameful thing, worthy of the mistreatment I got at the hands of my tormentors.

I'm not bringing this up to make you feel sorry for me. The days and nights of my childhood and adolescence, painful as they were, were steps on my path. I grew from them--they made me who I am today: strong, confident, proud, and comfortable in my own skin. As long as I'm secure in who I am, in my worth, no outside voice or person can take that away from me.

I'm grateful for that.

I'm bringing the above up today because this morning, I made a connection.

Last week, I was in the little Ohio River town where I grew up, East Liverpool, visiting family and old friends. Every six years this town of 10,000 souls or so has an all-class reunion for the sole high school in town. People come from all over, from classes as far back as the 1930s to reunite, to celebrate, to reminisce. The downtown streets are closed off, stages set up with bands, bars are set up too and one is free to wander around with a drink, seeing who might pop up from your past.

It's really kind of a unique and delightful time.

And, for me, a bittersweet one. My school days, although they had their happy moments, were marked by the teasing and bullying I mentioned above. Yes, I've forgiven my tormentors. I've moved on.

But this year, one of the events at the all-class reunion was a 5k race, which I participated in. It was a challenging and hilly course and the morning was bright and sunny, so there was sweat, lots of sweat.

But I came in 12th out of 86 runners and I won my age division (51+). Anywhere else, this might have made me happy, made me proud. But in my hometown, where I grew up one of those kids whose names were never called in choosing sides for basketball, the win had an added significance.

I learned that I stopped listening to that inner voice implanted in me as a child. The one who said I was uncoordinated, that there was no way I could be an athlete because I was too big of a sissy. I believed that voice for so many years, it seemed like truth.

But then I came to terms with who I was--maybe not a great athlete, but not the athlete others defined me as. I was able to shed what I'd internalized growing up and I found freedom and joy in pounding the pavement, the miles melted beneath my feet.

I've come to learn that we should never someone else define who we are. That choice, and responsibility, is always our own.


  1. Aloha Rick - I had the same thing happen to me growing up in the 1970's. And I thought I was the only one. As it turned out, I became an athlete later in life. Congrats on your race results and coming full circle. That must have felt great. I think your story is important for others to hear.

  2. Thanks so much for reaching out, Rob! I appreciate it.

  3. You are a good man and a great inspiration to many people. I know of no one on Facebook who is kinder and nicer.

  4. Nothing profound to day, just "Awesome post." I've never gone to a high school reunion, partly because my school contracts with those Reunion-O-Matic companies, and they charge a ridiculous amount of money and do a lot of activities I'm not into (golf? really? for a cross-section-of-the-population event??), but also partly because I have negative memories of high school too. My brain knows that all those other kids are also 35 years older and probably won't behave that way now, but my gut doesn't buy it. :/


    1. Thanks for the comment! I was kind of like you, for many years, about reunions, but I've come to see the same people who cared about me then care about me now...and that's all that matters.